This is an open letter to
I suppose I could as easily have addressed myself to the broader
world, but I know how the response to that would go. Folks denying,
rationalizing and arguing that facts are not truly facts.
That's how it always is when the subject is crime and you.
Earlier this week, The Herald ran a jaw-dropping series called
''Justice Withheld.'' It detailed the abuse of a legal procedure
called a withhold of adjudication. This is a tool Florida judges can
use at their discretion that allows felony offenders to avoid a
Receiving a withhold allows you to legally say you've never been
convicted of a crime, even though a court found you guilty. There
are many benefits: You retain your right to vote and hold office and
you don't have to put the crime on your application for a job or a
THEORY VS. PRACTICE
In theory, withholds are handed out sparingly to deserving people
in extenuating circumstances. The Herald found that in practice,
they are handed out like Halloween candy.
Four-time losers get withholds. Rapists and car thieves get
withholds. Drug dealers and batterers get withholds.
If you commit fraud or forgery, you've got an even chance of
getting one. Abuse or molest a child and your chances are actually
better than even.
All those folks enjoying all that judicial mercy. Guess who gets
Even if you commit the same crime and have the same record, a
white offender is almost 50 percent more likely to get a withhold
than you are. Some folks say that's not a function of racism but of
socioeconomics. Meaning that whites are more often able to afford
private attorneys, less likely to have to rely on some overburdened
There are two answers to that. One: socioeconomics can't be
disconnected from racism where black people are concerned; the
disparity in black and white accumulated wealth is hardly an
accident. And two: The Herald report shows that, even when you
adjust for type of attorney, African-American defendants are
still much less likely to receive withholds.
So I have a question for you:
Can we please stop being such good customers of the
American injustice system? I am sick to my soul of watching
shaggy-haired black boys and men in orange jumpsuits led into
courtrooms to be judged for doing some stupid and heinous thing. I'm
weary of the truth in that old Richard Pryor line about how he went
to court looking for justice and that's what he found. Just us.
Contrary to what society has told us, to what so much of our
music claims and to what too many of us have internalized, the
reason isn't that we carry some kind of criminal gene. No, it's that
we don't get second chances, don't have the same margin for error a
white guy would. One strike, and you're out.
We need to recognize this. Need to make sure our sons and
brothers recognize it.
The Herald report is not the first, the fifth, or even the 10th
to come back with results like these, results that codify the
painfully obvious: the injustice system sees no value in us, is
comfortable throwing us away like so much used tissue. It doesn't
give a damn about us.
But our children do. Our women and mothers and fathers do. So let
us love them -- and ourselves -- enough to stay as far from that
system as humanly possible. Because once you're in it, you're like a
dinosaur in a tar pit. Dragged down.
No, it's not fair that we are held to a different standard. Say
that loudly and clearly. Fight to make it right. But do not stop
You see, when you discover that a game is rigged against you, you
have every right to complain that you're being cheated.
But a smart man does one thing more:
A smart man stops